13 July, 2008

Don't leave home

You can understand the resistance of this administration to joining the International Criminal Court. It's not about protecting American soldiers, I suspect--it's about protecting themselves. As the days count down on this presidency, the talk of war crimes prosecutions is slowly growing larger. From a recent review:
Mr. Bush's 2005 proclamation that 'we do not torture' was long ago revealed as a lie. Antonio Taguba, the retired major general who investigated detainee abuse for the Army, concluded that 'there is no longer any doubt' that 'war crimes were committed.' Ms. Mayer uncovered another damning verdict: Red Cross investigators flatly told the C.I.A. last year that America was practicing torture and vulnerable to war-crimes charges.

Top Bush hands are starting to get sweaty about where they left their fingerprints. Scapegoating the rotten apples at the bottom of the military's barrel may not be a slam-dunk escape route from accountability anymore.

No wonder the former Rumsfeld capo, Douglas Feith, is trying to discredit a damaging interview he gave to the British lawyer Philippe Sands for another recent and essential book on what happened, 'Torture Team.' After Mr. Sands previewed his findings in the May issue of Vanity Fair, Mr. Feith protested he had been misquoted - apparently forgetting that Mr. Sands had taped the interview. Mr. Feith and Mr. Sands are scheduled to square off in a House hearing this Tuesday.

So hot is the speculation that war-crimes trials will eventually follow in foreign or international courts that Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell's former chief of staff, has publicly advisedMr. Feith, Mr. Addington and Alberto Gonzales, among others, to 'never travel outside the U.S., except perhaps to Saudi Arabia and Israel.
Will these people be tried? Almost certainly not. Much like Nixon, those who come next will mostly likely decide the best thing for the country will be to pardon anyone and everyone who might be prosecuted. And while this is one of the situations the ICC was designed to handle--a country that refuses to investigate or prosecute the possible crimes of its leaders--I don't see any way to make it work.

Then again, I've been wrong before. Could a retired American official be picked up in international waters? Will one need some special medical treatment abroad? Will one be so arrogant that he ignores the possibility of his own arrest? Will some future president decide it's in his best interest to ship some of these people to the Hague? A presidential pardon can keep you out of an American courtroom, but it doesn't mean anything anywhere else. War crimes are subject to universal jurisdiction, with no statute of limitations.

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